Does VDI need User Virtualization, or does User Virtualization need VDI?

VMware’s next version of View will, should, possibly, hopefully include the Windows profile optimisation solution that VMware bought from RTO Software. The intention was to ensure VMware would, at last, have an in-house solution to make accessing non-persistent desktops less cumbersome, getting View on par with other VDI vendors who have offered some form of integrated profile management solution for some time. But since VMware’s purchase – Citrix has acquired RingCube.

Delivering a virtual desktop OS to users is a mere bagatelle. Providing a locked-down, standardized workspace to task-based users can be straight forward, but not every company just has users focused on a single set of tasks. If a desktop virtualisation project is to be successful, delivering services to autonomous users is key: those users are more likely to be the organisation’s greater revenue generators, they are more likely to be more demanding in terms of resources, they are more likely to want to access their applications and data from a range devices. They are also more likely to kick up a fuss when a solution doesn’t work. That said, regardless of the type of user it is more likely they don’t care what OS is, rather can they use the applications they need and can they get access to their data.

As we’ve mentioned before if Presentation Virtualization/Terminal services are excluded, VDI hailed as the next generation of desktop solutions from the likes of Citrix, Quest and VMware, still hold less then 3% of the desktop market. Many CIOs have been holding back from taking the plunge from moving to a virtualised desktop model. A profile management service in View would have brought parity with other VDI solutions – but would it bring a spring in sales? Will VMware’s investment in RTO justify the money, or does the solution that they have now deliver too little, too late? Is a profile optimisation solution alone good enough?

This also leads to the question – does VDI need User Virtualization, or does User Virtualization need VDI?

Personal Computer, or Company Computer?

VDI/PV offer a centralised model – but a centralised model isn’t what a PC is. The PC, the Personal Computer, came about because of a need for a individualised service; because the mainframe – the original centralised model – was increasingly perceived as being ineffective for the business. Deploying a “PC” was about user choice: do you focus business functions on having a restricted working environment, or giving users greater liberty to be autonomous and more effective?

Desktop management’s cost savings are very rarely due simply to the fact you’ve moved from a distributed model to a centralised one, such as VDI. More typically, cost savings come through better desktop management: reducing failure, preventing loss, removing duplication. In some instances you could just as much reduce your desktop costs by implementing better desktop management services than ditching your PCs and moving to thin-clients. However,  it has long been the case the “better desktop management” often resulted in a very static working environment in terms of applications and devices and where those devices could be used from.  An advantage of Presentation Virtualization’s (PV) focus was to give a well managed and standardised environment, but over a wide range of devices, on or off -premise. But, PV struggled to deliver an customisable workspace. VDI can offer greater personalisation, but has struggled because it lacks the economies of scale PV and the simplicity of configuration.

User Virtualization?

User Virtualization makes your user’s information manageable and portable. With User Virtualization the components of a desktop relating to the user are decoupled from the operating system and applications. This allows them to be managed independently and applied to a workspace as needed without scripting or group policies, regardless of how the workspace is being delivered.

Its all about Profiles?

A major issue with trying to do user virtualization with profile and folder redirection alone is that the majority applications were and are not designed to follow users around: they were designed to work on a dedicated PC. In addition, if a solution relies on virtualised applications users have to wait until the application has been virtualised before they can install it. Other VDI vendor’s profile solutions were never really “user virtualization”: what these solutions focus on is improving the performance of logon times, and help with the deliver of pooled rather than dedicated VMs. But they don’t offer users full autonomy to install their own applications and move freely between on-line or off-line devices.

It is for this reason that vendors who specialise in user virtualization/workspace management provide additional functionality. Functionality to allow you to raise user privilege rights, to create application request workflows. AppSense Application Manager 8.3 for instance, has the option to allow administrators to  grant users the ability to elevate their privileges in a controlled manner. And functionality to allow deliver user virtualisation to desktops not hosted in a VDI environment.

Would a layering technology help?

There are more innovate solutions that look to treat the user’s settings and applications as complete separate instances.

UniDesk have developed a great solution for VDI. Their solution offers a fully customizable user experience capturing  user customizations, including profile settings, user-installed applications, documents, and plug-ins. In addition, there isn’t a massive overhead in installing custom or ad-hoc applications.

RingCube created  their vDesk VDI Edition, which was an add-on to Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View. with vDesk VDI Edition, shared VMs can be customised for each users, again not by using roaming profiles or folder redirection, but by utilising the RingCube vDesk agent’s facility to encapsulate changes.

You could also consider Wanova’s Mirage – which allows system administrators to control desktops through a master image (Base OS and IT managed applications) and any changes or updates that are made are merged with the individual device images and pushed down to the desktop.What is compelling about Mirage’s solution is that it works across platforms – not just for VDI but for traditional PCs.

VMware up-to-speed, or lagging behind?

Does VDI need User Virtualization, or does User Virtualization need VDI? VDI does not need user virtualisation: as long as you are willing to sacrifice either user-autonomy, or VDI scalability.

Citrix purchase of Ringcube offers Citrix XenDesktop customers the possibly of greater scalability and a wider reach for who, in an organisation, can use a hosted desktop . It is also possible to consider that the vDesk functionality could be built into VDI-in-box (formerly Kaviza) and XenClient configurations. Once the integration is successful Citrix have undoubtedly enhanced their desktop offering; it will be interesting to see where this functionality is delivered to in terms of Citrix editions: Platinum? Enterprise? Across the board? Getting customers to commit to renewing license subscriptions  is difficult unless there is a regular major benefit.

VMware is about to deliver a technology that was designed purely to speed up profile access rather than to manage profiles. This isn’t user virtualisation. That said, the ability to integrate third party solutions (from vendors such as AppSense, RES Software or UniDesk) doesn’t mean that View deployment’s can’t benefit from user virtualization technologies. Will Citrix’s RingCube acquisition mean that the ability to use the technology becomes limited to Citrix’s XenDesktop/XenClient line or will there be continued support for other brokers?

Does VDI need User Virtualization, or does User Virtualization need VDI? User Virtualization has the capacity to extend across desktop delivery boundaries because the user workspace, their applications and data are no longer bound to the desktop OS. To deliver virtual desktops for the enterprise, it is not simply a case of managing profile load time better: many users need greater customisation than a shared desktop can deliver. The role of user virtualization has definitely been enhanced through VDI; but in an enterprise environment VDI is not the only method of delivering desktops. A complete user virtualization solution needs to be able to accommodate, not only centralised hosted desktops, but off-line use as well and standard desktops: and perhaps in the future, not just Windows OS based applications.